Reed: Infrastructure Critical to Economy

Transportation Investments, Safety Record Are Legitimate Uses of Dollars

Posted March 3, 2011 at 1:18pm

Everyone understands the reality that the federal government is operating in the midst of a debt-driven crisis.

Every dollar we spend must be closely examined in terms of effectiveness. Taxpayers rightly demand and deserve a good return on their investments.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has a direct effect on the entire nation. Whether it be planes, roads, bridges, mass transit or railroads, every taxpayer is affected by the broad areas over which the committee has jurisdiction.

My experience as the mayor of Corning, N.Y., taught me how important the quality of infrastructure is to economic development. Safe, reliable transportation options are critical to virtually every commercial enterprise in America.

I am an outspoken advocate for limited government. Government should only do what individuals cannot. Making transportation and infrastructure investments is one of the legitimate roles of government. Taxpayers receive a direct return from these investments in the form of jobs and economic opportunity.

We are all proud of our nation’s solid overall record of transportation safety. Maintaining and always trying to improve on that strong safety record will be a top priority as we oversee the agencies that keep us all safe.

As we consider long-term planning for improvement, maintenance and replacement of our aging infrastructure and transportation systems, we have priorities in project financing, reasonable regulation, leveraging technology, cost-efficient development and accountability.

We must ensure that the federal government plays a role as supporter and helper to those who will build the new systems of the 21st century. The government is too often an antagonist and hinderer to new ways of thinking.

• Project Financing: Public and private partnerships must be encouraged to increase private-sector investment in transportation and infrastructure. There is a new way of doing business in government — no longer can taxpayers bear the entire burden.

The government’s role needs to evolve more toward facilitator than endower. We need to build upon models such as the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program, which is allowing private enterprise to put existing rail infrastructure to better use at a profit for taxpayers.

• Reasonable Regulation: We have to get government out of the way to streamline the process for infrastructure projects — from proposal through approval and then funding. While environmental impact statements are a necessary part of the process, we must be more reasonable to lower the cost and shorten the timeline of improvement efforts.

• Leveraging Technology: Our government needs to embrace technology and to move at a more contemporary pace.

For example, NextGen, the new national air traffic control system, must move forward as quickly as possible. NextGen will reduce gridlock, both in the sky and at airports, and will allow controllers to handle more traffic more efficiently. We need to accelerate improvements like this, which leverage new technology for greater return for taxpayers.

• Cost-Efficient Development: Simply committing huge sums of money to a project doesn’t make it worthwhile. Given the extremely high cost of constructing, maintaining and operating a high-speed rail system, we need to carefully consider the long-term practicality of this major proposal. Maybe it can work in the Northeast corridor, but projections of ticket prices pushing $200 on other potential routes don’t look attractive from either the consumer or the government standpoint.

Accountability and Transparency: Our overall priority must be transparency and accountability to the taxpayers. I appreciate the commitment of my committee chairman, John Mica (Fla.), and ranking member Nick Rahall (W.Va.) to conduct field hearings and listening sessions around the country to solicit feedback from those on the front line dealing with transportation issues every day.

We need more input from outside the Beltway. All of us in government must remember that the most innovative ideas come directly from the people — not from a bureaucracy in Washington.

The work completed by Transportation and Infrastructure during this Congress will have ramifications on generations of taxpayers and will shape decades of businesses. We cannot afford to pay for everything that we want.

Just like all American families and businesses, we have to find new ways to tighten our belt and yet still move forward. They are the ones we need to look to as we make long-term decisions on the transportation and infrastructure improvements. We have to pay for the necessities (safety) first. Then we pay, only so much as we can afford, for that which will bring the most economic opportunity and return for taxpayers.

Rep. Tom Reed is the highest ranking of the 19 freshman Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He was elected with 56 percent to succeed Democrat Eric Massa, who had resigned, in New York’s 29th district (Southern Tier — Elmira, Corning, Rochester suburbs).